Posts tagged with: Religious Persecution

Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg tackles the question of religious liberty in Islamic states this morning, over at The American Spectator. In a piece titled “The Arab Spring’s Forgotten Freedom,” Gregg describes the tensions between Christians seeking religious freedom in the Middle East and the Islamic states they inhabit, and then looks hopefully to the source of a resolution.

For at least one group of Middle-Easterners, the Arab Spring is turning out to be a decidedly wintery affair. And if confirmation was ever needed, just consider the escalation of naked violence against Christians throughout the region. The recent instance of Egyptian army vehicles crushing and killing Coptic Christians protesting against a church burning was merely one of numerous incidents that must make Middle-Eastern Christians wonder about their future under the emerging new regimes.

These trends appear to confirm that despite all the current freedom-and-democracy talk, much of the Islamic world continues to suffer from one particularly severe blind spot when it comes to human liberty. And that concerns the acceptance and protection of authentic religious freedom.

Gregg points out that the Christian population of the Middle East has plummeted since 1900 (when it was about 20 percent) for ethnic and for political reasons.

Islam confronts two specific dilemmas that raise questions about its ability to accept a robust conception of religious liberty.

First, from its very beginning, Islam was intimately associated with political power. That’s one reason why there is no church-state distinction in Islam that limits (at least theoretically) the state’s capacity to coerce religious belief or unreasonably inhibit religious-shaped choices.

Second, since approximately the 13th century, the dominant theological understanding of God’s nature within Islam has been one of Voluntas (Divine Will) rather than Logos (Divine Reason). And this matters because if you believe in a God that can, on a mere whim, act unreasonably, then it isn’t so problematic for such a Divinity’s adherents to engage in plainly unreasonable practices such as killing apostates.

If, however, God is Logos, the case for religious liberty is much easier to make insofar as a reasonable God would never demand compulsion in religion. Why? Because as St. Augustine wrote long ago, “If there is no assent, there is no faith, for without assent one does not really believe.”

Gregg sees hope, however, in thinkers like Turkish journalist and devout Muslim Mustafa Akyol, whose recent book Islam Without Extremes makes the Islamic case for religious freedom. Though most Western religious thinkers do little to plead the cause of persecuted Middle Eastern Christians, Gregg thinks the central cause of the persecution, and thus the ultimate solution, is to be found in Islamic thought.

In the end, non-Muslims can’t resolve Islam’s religious liberty challenge. Only theologically educated, historically informed and believing Muslims can do that. In the meantime, those reading the Arab Spring as a uniformly-positive event might like to consider that it appears to be doing little to secure the freedom, if not the very existence, of ancient Christian churches, many of which were founded by people who in all likelihood knew Christ or his first disciples. The loss of such a civilizational and religious heritage would be immeasurable — and not just for Christianity, but for the future of liberty within the Islamic world itself.

Mustafa Akyol happens to be speaking today at a luncheon hosted by the Cato Institute. Acton’s executive director Kris Mauren will be providing commentary. If you are in Washington, D.C., you won’t want to miss it!

There are no more Christian churches in Afghanistan — not a single public house of Christian worship is left standing. In other news, NATO success against the Taliban may have been intentionally exaggerated, although we already knew that progress in that country is… slow. It’s no surprise, of course, that the United States hasn’t been able to establish self government-in-a-box in a country where, according to the State Department, religious liberty has declined measurably even in the last year.

Religious liberty must be at the heart of any free society, because if it is not protected, all other defenses are sure to fall. The abuses of Christians in Afghanistan violate not only their rights of conscience, but also their rights of property and even of free movement — their churches are seized and they are imprisoned. Contracts with Christians are not enforced, converts to Christianity are openly persecuted, and Afghan politicians approve of all of this.

We should not expect that in ten years our diplomats could have effected a constitutional transformation of Afghanistan. Liberty “is the delicate fruit of a mature civilization,” as Lord Acton said, “from the sowing of the seed at Athens, two thousand four hundred and sixty years ago, until the ripened harvest was gathered” in Western Europe. (He delivered that address in 1877, so you’ll want to update the numbers.)

But a backslide is cause for concern. It suggests that there is something wrong with the conception of human freedom that is motivating our efforts.

The state of religious liberty around the world is poor, according a new study by the Pew Forum on Religion. Doug Bandow breaks down the report over at The American Spectator—his piece is titled “A World Spinning Backward.”

Two years ago, Pew reported that 70 percent of humanity suffered from either government persecution of or social hostility to religion.

That trend is growing. According to Pew’s new study, “more than 2.2 billion people—about a third of the world’s population—live in countries where government restrictions or social hostilities involving religion are increasing. About 1% live in countries where government restrictions or social hostilities are decreasing.”

And in a finding that reminds one of Old Testament and Roman persecutions,

Pew noted that “restrictions on religion are particularly common in countries that prohibit blasphemy, apostasy or defamation of religion. While such laws are sometimes promoted as a way to protect religion, in practice they more often serve to punish religious minorities whose beliefs are deemed unorthodox or heretical.”

Blasphemy prosecutions have become notorious in Pakistan. These laws began with the British, were strengthened by a military dictator seeking religious support, and now are disproportionately used against Christians, often to settle property or other disputes. Muslims who urge reform of the laws are at risk. Punjab governor Salman Taseer was vocal in his criticism of the blasphemy statute and was murdered in January.

So Bandow asks, “What is responsible for this alarming trend?”

One finding suggests an unusual form of global polarization. Authoritarian states are growing more repressive while liberal nations are growing freer.

But while the America remains the most religiously free region in the world, social oppression is breaking out even in Western democratic nations…. Pew found that “Europe had the largest proportion of countries in which social hostilities related to religion were on the rise from mid-2006 to mid-2009.

Bulgaria, Denmark, Russia (where religious-oriented terrorism is on the rise), Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Italy are all guilty of backsliding. Bandow’s conclusion ought to be taken seriously:

Only one thing is certain: liberty is both rare and precious. Unfortunately, people in much of the world are free in neither their personal nor their political lives…. History obviously has more than its share of surprises left for us.

The First Amendment must never be taken for granted.

The following is a devotional on the meaning of Easter, or Pascha, from Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom. More from Bishop Angaelos may be found on his blog. Also see “Copts welcome Easter amid hope, fear and determination to fight for rights” on Ahram Online.

On the Resurrection

Key verses: 1 Peter 4:12-13

As we celebrate the commemoration of the glorious feast of our Lord’s Resurrection on Sunday, we must never lose sight of the fact that as victorious as this resurrection is, it would never have come about without the apparent defeat of the cross.

In looking at the first epistle of Saint Peter throughout these devotionals, I could not help paying particular attention to his message in verses 12 and 13 of chapter 4: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” This is the true essence of the Christian joy.

Bishop Angaelos

Christianity carries within itself, its message and its life a strange paradox. Our Lord insists that we are free, victorious and called to a greater life, but at the same time, over the past centuries we have seen so much persecution and affliction. How can this be victory? It is simple. It is just as St Peter said. It is within the fullness of this suffering that we are both part of and celebrate the fullness and the victory of the Resurrection.

We look around the world today and see so much conflict and unrest, and as we also look at our Christian brethren around the world we still see, even 2000 years after Christ Himself walked this earth, that there are people who are still persecuted as He was and lose their lives as He did. One might then say, ‘He is risen but they are not’ and this is what I want to reflect upon with you today. He indeed is risen, but what of those still persecuted today?

I want us to place ourselves with those disciples who ran to the tomb on Sunday morning, stooped down and looked within, only to be faced with a strange vision of angels standing within the tomb. We must also reflect on what those angels said. As the disciples looked in, the angel had a very clear question: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen” (Luke 24:5-6).

As Christians we must stop looking for Christ among the dead and we must start looking for victory through death. 

As Christ is risen, and as He has given us hope in that very same Resurrection, so we too must always look beyond the cross and the tomb. When our Lord spoke to his disciples, He said to them they would be sad, weep and lament, but He also said that there would be a day in which He would return to them and restore their joy, and that joy no one would ever take away (John 16:22).

He also said very honestly and openly to them, hiding nothing of what they would experience, that they should expect to find tribulation in the world, but in my own mind, he would have looked at them gently with a smile, a victorious smile, and continued, “But I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We are the disciples of the One who has not only overcome the world, but has overcome death itself. Today let us rejoice in our suffering, knowing that this will only lead us to rejoicing in the very real resurrection, one after which there will be no more suffering, pain and persecution, but only the beauty that comes from the presence of our Lord in His glorious kingdom.

Source: Christian Publishing & Outreach

We have tried to raise awareness of the persecution and violence Coptic Christians face in Egypt and around the world at the Acton Institute and in the pages of Religion & Liberty. On New Year’s Day, a suicide-bomber killed 21 Coptic Christians as they left al-Qiddisin Church in the port city of Alexandria, Egypt. On the heels of the attack, news reports have surfaced that al-Qaeda lists Coptic Churches in the Netherlands as targets for their terror. CNN also reports that Coptic Churches across Europe are on alert because of the attack in Alexandria. The same Islamist website that called for the attack on the church in Alexandria also list Coptic Churches in England, France, and Germany as targets to blow up during the Christmas celebration. Copts celebrate Christmas on January 7.

In last year’s Winter issue of Religion & Liberty, we interviewed Nina Shea who spoke at length on the perilous situation of Egypt’s Coptic Christians as well as persecution of Christians around the globe. She also provided additional statements on violence against Copts previously on the PowerBlog. Just yesterday, Shea weighed in on the recent attack in Alexandria at The Corner over at National Review.

In my own commentary I asked “Will America Help the Persecuted Copts of Egypt?” Certainly, we need more action from our own State Department in the United States and our ambassador to Egypt. I also added a post on the Coptic issue highlighting some of my own experiences with Coptic Christians when I lived in Egypt.

The Egyptian government has been entirely absent in responding to human rights for Copts. It has also been well chronicled that the government in Egypt is often complicit in the persecution. It is time for that practice to end and hopefully our own government will champion the human rights cause of Coptic Christians and help to alleviate their suffering.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, at a meeting with German President Christian Wulff in Moscow today:

“I am deeply convinced that modern civilization is making the same mistake as the Soviet Union. It doesn’t matter very much why you are removing faith from pubic life. The final result, as engineers say, is the same: you get dismantling of religious consciousness,” the Patriarch said.

The Russian Church has lived for decades in a country where the official ideology was the ideology of atheism, “where churches were destroyed, crosses were removed from churches to be used for some secular purposes, where religious life was squeezed out of public life and could only be manifested in private, intimate life.”

The people who made such policies “have very good intentions and acted on the basis of their convictions, and their convictions were very humanistic: to build a just prospering society, good future, where people would be happy and would have everything they wanted to have, but religion, those crosses on churches were getting in the way,” the Patriarch said.

“It scares me that something illogical is now taking place in some countries, including in Western Europe. No one is saying that the Christian presence should be removed for the sake of a good future, but they are using a different philosophy: they want to remove crosses from schools and religion from public life in the name of human rights,” Patriarch Kirill said.

More on Interfax.

shearlThe new issue of Religion & Liberty, featuring an interview with Nina Shea, is now available online. A February preview of Shea’s interview, which was an exclusive for PowerBlog readers, can be found here.

Shea pays tribute to the ten year collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, which began in the fall of 1989. The entire issue is dedicated to those who toiled for freedom. Shea is able to make the connection between important events and times in the Cold War with what is happening today in regards to religious persecution. Her passion on these issues is unmatched. Her experience and expertise on issues of religious persecution definitely shine through in this interview. I encourage readers to pay attention to her work.

Mark Tooley offers the feature piece for this issue, “Not Celebrating Communism’s Collapse.” It is an excellent look back at the religious left and their grave misjudgments about the true danger of Marxist dictatorships. Tooley declares, “Communism’s collapse did further discredit the Religious Left, and the political witness of mainline Protestantism and ecumenical groups like the WCC and NCC has arguably, and thankfully, never quite recovered from the events of 1989-1990.” Tooley is president of The Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

In this issue I offer a review of Steven P. Miller’s Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South, which appeared first on the PowerBlog.

“Repressions” is a series of voices that speak to the danger of an ideology that reduces man to merely a material creature, while violently squelching the spiritual. Because of the danger of an all controlling state, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution considered religious liberty the “first freedom,” the foundational freedom upon which others are built. They understood that religious freedom is the hallmark to a truly free and virtuous society, and is also meant to act as an important wall from encroachment by the state into our lives.

The issue also pays tribute to a well known figure, especially among evangelical Christians, Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). Scaheffer, who spoke out against the godless totalitarian state also powerfully reminds us: “I believe that pluralistic secularism, in the long run, is a more deadly poison than straightforward persecution.”

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Friday, February 26, 2010
Nina Shea

Nina Shea

In the next issue of Religion & Liberty, we are featuring an interview with Nina Shea. The issue focuses on religious persecution with special attention on the ten year anniversary of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. A feature article for this issue written by Mark Tooley is also forthcoming. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington D.C. In regards to Shea, the portion of the interview below is exclusively for readers of the Powerblog. In this portion of the interview Shea discusses Egyptian Copts, Sudan, President Barack Obama’s record on religious freedom and Iranian dissidents. Below is a short bio of Shea:

Nina Shea has served as an international human-rights lawyer for over twenty years. She joined the Hudson Institute as a senior fellow in November 2006, where she directs the Center for Religious Freedom. For the ten years prior to joining Hudson, She worked at Freedom House, where she directed the Center for Religious Freedom, which she had founded in 1986.

Since 1999, Shea has served as a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent federal agency. She has been appointed as a U.S. delegate to the United Nation’s main human rights body by both Republican and Democratic administrations. She recently spoke with Religion & Liberty’s managing editor Ray Nothstine.
(more…)

Protection and justice for the Egyptian Coptic community is an issue that is very close to my heart. That is a major reason that this week’s Acton commentary highlights the grave difficulty of their situation. The inspiring news is that the international Coptic community has united to peacefully magnify their outrage of the violent shooting that took place on January 6; the date Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas Eve. I’d like to point out to our Powerblog readers one especially moving video by John Abiskaron called Coptic Justice. The short film chronicles the peaceful protests in Los Angeles on January 10.

I lived in Egypt for over two years and one thing that is especially telling about the people is how so many are very poor but filled with joy. Many of the poorest Egyptians are Christians too because of persecution by the Islamic majority and government. Living in Egypt was really the first time my eyes were opened to the heartbreaking poverty that plagues much of the globe. It was a very humbling experience and one that truly physically connects you to the deep thankfulness of your own opportunities and circumstances.

My first visit to the Zabaleen community in Cairo could only be described as almost utter disbelief. I didn’t want to believe people actually lived like that. And in a deeper spiritual sense you feel connected to them because the crosses many of them wear is a physical reminder that they are brothers and sisters in Christ. The Zebaleen are also a very proud and independent people and they have worked on many entrepreneurial endeavors with their task at trash collecting to better their own community and lives.

It is vital that Egypt receive greater pressure from the United States to vastly improve the treatment of Copts. It is important because it is a task that can be accomplished largely due to the amount of foreign aid Egypt receives from the United States. Egypt is very dependent on that aid and as Nina Shea will also reiterate in her upcoming Religion & Liberty interview, it is aid that must be leveraged for Coptic justice and protection.

When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, that event visibly marked the collapse of a Communist ideology that had oppressed, tortured and killed millions for decades. But now, 20 years later, Communist authorities are once again taking aim at an old target — the Christian Church. Samuel Gregg looks at the alarming persecution of Roman Catholics in Vietnam in his commentary, “Corruption, Communism, and Catholicism in Vietnam.”

Gregg articulates the horrifying reasons for the continued persecution that Catholics in Vietnam are subject to:

Some of the reasons for this treatment of Vietnam’s Catholic Church are historical. Vietnam’s rulers are acutely aware that Catholics were among the most committed anti-Communist Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. Many Vietnamese also identified Catholicism with French colonial rule.

This background, however, is of marginal significance in explaining the violent crackdown presently being experienced by Catholics throughout Vietnam. Put simply, it’s about government corruption.

Catholic clergy and lay Catholics are not the only target, but the property of the Catholic Church is also emerging as another target for the government:

In late 2008, for example, Vinh Long provincial officials announced their intention to “appropriate” the land of a convent of nuns which also functioned as an orphanage in order to build a hotel. More recently, land in Hanoi that the government itself acknowledges has been owned by a Catholic monastery since 1928 was simply given over by the state for residential construction.

In an era where religious tolerance is becoming more widely accepted it is disheartening to see corrupt governments still persecuting the faithful.